Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

Flying From the Wrath to Come


In 2003 the Barna Group released the results of one of their religious polls. While there is no dominant view of Hell, two particular perspectives are popular. Four out of ten adults believe that Hell is “a state of eternal separation from God’s presence” (39%) and one-third (32%) says it is “an actual place of torment and suffering where people’s souls go after death.” Most Americans do not expect to experience Hell first-hand: just one-half of 1% expect to go to Hell upon their death. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) believe they will go to Heaven. One of the intriguing findings from the research is that education and income are negatively correlated with belief in Heaven and Hell. In other words, the more education a person gets or the more income they earn, the less likely they are to believe that Heaven or Hell exists. While most high-income households and college graduates maintain belief in Heaven and Hell, the finding reinforces the popular notion – and, indeed, Jesus’ teaching – that people of economic means and those with considerable education struggle to embrace biblical teachings on such matters”(

While people in our culture might at times ridicule the idea of hell, it is clear that this topic is one that cannot be ignored. In this lesson I want to address some important questions regarding hell.

How Can One Reconcile A Loving God with Such A Punishment?

Some argue that God is a God of compassion and mercy and is not someone who would punish people in hell. Yet many Biblical passages that talk about God’s mercy are also passages that speak of God’s wrath against sin (John 3:16 “should not perish”; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Exodus 34:6-7). Jesus would speak of eternal life and eternal punishment in the same breath (Matthew 25:46), and eternal blessedness and eternal suffering in the same breath as well(Matthew 8:11-12). People tend to forget that mercy and compassion are completely unnecessary if there is no danger of ending up lost. If there is no hell, then God’s mercy is completely meaningless. “Anyone who thinks that such damnation is excessive or unjust clearly does not know how to measure how great was the wickedness in sinning where it was so easy not to sin” (Augustine). Those whose consciences have not yet been awakened to consider as Anselm said, ‘How weighty is sin’ are not yet qualified to give an opinion about it (Hebrews 10:31; 12:29). “How could a good and loving God allow a hell? We should ask, ‘How could a just and holy God allow sin into His presence?’” (L.E. Maxwell). That is, the real question is not how God could allow people to choose eternal punishment as their fate (Matthew 7:13-14), the real puzzling question is that in view of how sin is a direct attack upon God Himself, how can God continue to allow this world to exist and mankind to spurn Him countless times each day? In other words, what should surprise people is not the punishment of hell – for that is just (Romans 2:5; Hebrews 2:1-3), but rather the fact that God is patient with those who spurn or ignore Him. “Yea, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins. Divine justice says of the tree that brings forth such grapes of Sodom, “Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?” Luke 13:7. The sword of divine justice is every moment brandished over their heads, and it is nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy, and God's mere will, that holds it back” (Sinners in the hands of an Angry God, Jonathan Edwards, July 8th, 1741). One mistake that some people make is that they have put a mental block between the idea of hell and the person of Christ. They picture Jesus as being too kind to allow anyone to end up in hell. The problem with this point of view becomes obvious to anyone who has read the New Testament, even once. Jesus is the predominant speaker when it comes to the topic of hell (Matthew 7:13-14; 22; 8:12) and is Himself the Author of kindness. 

Isn’t The Punishment Greater Than The Crime?

Some have argued, “How can God consign someone to eternal punishment” for committing a sin that may have only lasted seconds? Even though any one sin can condemn, (Acts 5:1ff; Acts 8:20-23), it is equally clear that hell is a predictable outcome. The passages that speak of hell often speak of the mindset or pattern of behavior that results in this destiny:

  • “Fill up then, the measure of the sin... How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:32-33).
  • “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger” (Romans 2:8)
  • “Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21)
  • “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Ephesians 5:5)
  • “They perish because they refused to love the truth... all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness” (2 Thessalonians 2:10,12)

Thus it is not entirely correct to blame God for “sending people to hell”, rather it is more accurate to remember that often the person who ends up in hell had been often charting a course in this direction making this choice for years or even decades. “Heaven and hell are not surprise outcomes. Rather they logically and naturally flow from how one lived and operated on earth. Just as a believer eagerly anticipates being in perfect harmony and union with His Creator and Savior in heaven, an unbeliever should see hell as a final divorce from God. The punishment fits the crime because the punishment is the crime. Saying no to God means no God” (That’s Just Your Interpretation, Paul Copan, p. 103).

Moses wrote, “Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; for the day of calamity is near” (Deuteronomy 32:35). In commenting upon this verse, Jonathan Edwards wrote “…the reason why they are not fallen already, and do not fall now, is only that God's appointed time is not come. For it is said, that when that due time, or appointed time comes, their foot shall slide. Then they shall be left to fall, as they are inclined by their own weight. God will not hold them up in these slippery places any longer, but will let them go; and then at that very instant, they shall fall into destruction; as he that stands on such slippery declining ground, on the edge of a pit, he cannot stand alone, when he is let go he immediately falls and is lost”(Edwards).

Why Not Just One More Chance?

Some feel that it would only be fair to extend to the lost in hell just one more chance to be saved. Yet this point of view completely ignores the fact that an all-loving and all-wise God decided that all the chances end at death (Hebrews 9:28). Such a statement also completely ignores the multitude of chances that any sinner receives in this life to be saved. This point of view is also based on the assumption that “punishment” will bring about conversion. In the book of Amos God notes all the ways in which He had brought consequences upon His wayward people and He repeatedly says, “Yet you have not returned to Me” (Amos 4:6,8,9,11). Let us remember that death and the suffering that follows it for the wicked does not magically change such people. Stephen said to the unbelieving Jews, “You always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51), and Jesus said of a woman among His people, “I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling” (Revelation 2:21). It might be true to say that the people who end up in hell are regretful, but this does not mean that they are changed or converted. Every person who ends up in hell obviously would like out—but not for the right reason. In Luke 16:24, I find the rich man crying out for relief, but I do not find him confessing his sins and that admitting his punishment is just. Later in that chapter, I even find him arguing with Abraham, “No, father Abraham… but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent” (Luke 16:30). Not only was he wrong about what would move his brothers to repent; he had not even repented himself. He is suffering – yet there is no real submission to the will and wisdom of God. To the end, he is arguing that he has a better idea than God. This is the type of thing that C.S. Lewis was describing in The Problem of Pain. He said that hell exists for those who refuse to acknowledge their guilt; therefore, they can accept no forgiveness. So in the end there are only two kinds of people, those who say to God, “Thy will be done”, and those to whom God says, “thy will be done”. 

The very fact that many people have been warned about hell, and yet so few escape it (Matthew 7:13-14) says something. Edwards wrote, “Every one lays out matters in his own mind how he shall avoid damnation, and flatters himself that he contrives well for himself, and that his schemes will not fail. They hear indeed that there are but few saved, and that the greater part of men that have died heretofore are gone to hell; but each one imagines that he lays out matters better for his own escape than others have done… If we could speak with them, and inquire of them, one by one, whether they expected, when alive, and when they used to hear about hell ever to be the subjects of that misery: we doubtless, should hear one and another reply, “No, I never intended to come here: I had laid out matters otherwise in my mind; I thought I should contrive well for myself: I thought my scheme good. I intended to take effectual care; but it came upon me unexpected; I did not look for it at that time, and in that manner; it came as a thief… I was flattering myself, and pleasing myself with vain dreams of what I would do hereafter; and when I was saying, Peace and safety, then suddenly destruction came upon me”. This is why it is so important to embrace God “today” (Hebrews 3:7-8; 2 Corinthians 6:1-2), for now is the time when hearts can be softened, now is the time when minds can be changed, now is the time when one can humble themselves, and now is the time when one can own up to their sins. (Edwards).